Saturday, November 13, 2021

My Call Into "Catholic Answers" with Trent Horn

 LINK (HT: Real Atheology)

Nicholas Rescher on Objective Values

(Note: The following post was originally written on October 19, 2011, but was never quite finished. I am publishing it now "as is." I am clearing out my backlog of draft blog posts but I am officially on a hiatus from blogging. What this means is that while you are free to comment on this post, readers should not expect engagement from me anytime soon.)

I have always been uncomfortable with Craig's references to "values" in his defense of his moral argument for theism. What does Craig mean by "values"? I found a passage in Nicholas Rescher's INTRODUCTION TO VALUE THEORY that I found very helpful and worth posting. In the following excerpt, Rescher discusses the issue of whether values are in any sense objective:

One of the central tasks of such a theory of evaluation in general is to make a critical examination of the generic features of the mechanisms for applying the concept of value. Here two questions above all have been at the forefront of discussion: (1) Is value a property of objects (like color) or is it a relationship (like ownership) that arises out of circumstances linking the value object with the valuing subject in some special way, in which case the further question of objectivity vs. subjectivity arises: is valuation personal and relative; does value reside strictly "in the mind of the beholder," or does it have an objective grounding? (2) Is the value of an object something to be apprehended only in subjective experience (like the taste of a food or a drink) intuitively--or is its attribution to be based on impersonally specifiable criteria whose satisfaction can be determined by some objective examination akin to the scientific investigation of things?
An enormous literature has sprung up around these metatheoretical questions regarding valuation. We cannot here pursue the matter at the length required for an adequate discussion. In consequence, we shall content ourselves with formulating our own position in a brief and dogmatic way. As we see it, a paradigm model of evaluation can be found in the work of the land appraiser. The assessed value at issue (that of land) is relational: it is not a property inherent in the land itself (like the rockiness of its soil) but arises out of its relationship to people in its environment and has to do with various attitudes that people have toward the features exhibited by this valued item. Evaluation is this generally "principled," i.e., based on criteria that take account of objective features of the items (real or assumed) that are being evaluated. Value has, therefore, an objective basis and can be assessed, by impersonal standards or criteria that can be taught to an evaluator through training. Value--in this conception--is relational (in viewing the value of an object as something that arises from the nature of its interactions with people, or perhaps intelligent beings generally) but objective (since evaluation is, in general, based on objectively establishable and interpersonally operative standards).
The controversy about the objectivity of value comes down to this: Is something valuable because it is valued (and so, solely, because it is regarded by people in a certain way), or is something valued--properly and correctly valued--when it is valuable, that is, when it is objectively possessed of certain value-endowing features? The question can be put in another way by asking what type of valuing situation is to be taken as typical. Is the paradigm evaluation that of a postage stamp, whose sole value resides in the fact that men wish to own it? Or is the paradigm evaluation that of an apple whose value, quite apart from the fact of its being desired, resides in its possession of those characteristics that make for its being nourishing, palatable, hunger-appeasing, etc.? (Note that it is only in this second case--when having value requires the possession of certain features--that one can speak of something that is valued as being rightly or correctly valued.)
Put in these terms the question (it would seem) virtually answers itself. Both types of value situations arise. There are postage stamp cases, where values derive from being subjectively valued, and apple cases, where value inheres objectively in value-endowing features. There are mere valuings of the de gustibus non est disputandum kind that lie beyond direct criticism, and there are well-founded valuings that can be correct or incorrect on the basis of an objective foundation. An adequate theory of value has to be prepared to take both types of valuing into account.
-- Nicholas Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1982), pp. 55-56.
What stands out to me after reading Rescher's explanation is just how irrelevant the existence of God is to all of this. If values are objective, that is not because God does or does not exist. If values are subjective, that is not because God does or does not exist. Either way the existence or nonexistence of God is irrelevant to the objectivity of value.

Theological Ethics as Dogma

(Note: The following post was originally written on October 19, 2011, but was never quite finished. I am publishing it now "as is." I am clearing out my backlog of draft blog posts but I am officially on a hiatus from blogging. What this means is that while you are free to comment on this post, readers should not expect engagement from me anytime soon.)

Apologists have said, ad nauseum, that atheists are guilty of presupposing a priori the truth of metaphysical naturalism in both their arguments and in their responses to theistic arguments. Phillip Johnson is especially notorious for this in his criticisms of evolutionists. And N.T. scholars like Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig and Craig Blomberg do this when criticizing their liberal critics, like Antony Flew, Gerd Ludemann, and especially John Dominic Crossan.

While there have been nontheists who may be guilty of that charge, naturalistic atheists don't need to presuppose naturalism in order to make their case. But in this article I wish to focus on a different point. I believe that the Christian focus on presuppositions reveals a rhetorical strategy that has been extremely effective for Christians. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about metaethics, it occurred to me that it might be fruitful to turn the tables on proponents of theistic metaethics. The more I learn about atheistic metaethics, the more it seems to me that many proponents of theistic metaethics are just blatantly presupposing, a priori, that ethics cannot be secular. In other words, some proponents of theological ethics rule out the possibility of naturalistic ethics a priori.

For an example of how such an objection to theistic writings on religion and morality would look, I went to arn.org, one of the official sites for evolution denier Phillip Johnson. At that site, I found an article titled, "Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism," which sounded like an article concerned exclusively with the alleged a priori presupposition of naturalism in science. And indeed it was. So using Johnson's words as a starting point, I developed my own 'paraphrase' of Johnson, except that I directed the accusation of bias against theists who discount secular ethics. Here is what I came up with:

Theistic metaethics is so deeply ingrained in the thinking of many educated people today that they find it difficult even to imagine any other way of looking at things. To such people, theistic metaethics seems so logically appealing that only a modest amount of confirming evidence is needed to prove the whole system, and so they point to the "objectivity" of morality as virtually conclusive. Even if they do develop doubts about, say, whether God's commands are needed for moral duties, their belief that an objective morality requires a theistic grounding is undisturbed. Because they believe morality is objective and that their Bible tells them that God must be sovereign over everything that exists, it follows that morality must be dependent upon God if it is objective.

The same situation looks quite different to people who accept the possibility of moral values and duties which are not dependent on God. To such people, who include both nontheists and theists, the idea that God could make cruelty morally valuable or torture a moral duty is absurd. From their perspective, there is no relevant difference between saying, on the one hand, that an all-powerful God can do anything which is logically possible and, on the other hand, that a morally perfect God can do anything which is morally permissible. If it is no violation of God's sovereignty to say that God cannot do the logically impossible (such as make it both true and false that unicorns exist), then it should equally be no violation of God's sovereignty to say that God cannot make the immoral (such as the slaughter of the Canaanites) moral just by issuing a command. But this is unimportant to a thoroughgoing devotee of theistic metaethics, who feels that apologetics is doing just fine so long as it can offer an foundation for ethics that is merely consistent with theism, no matter how implausible.
Victory in the dispute over secular vs. religious ethics therefore belongs to the party with the cultural authority to establish the ground rules that govern the discourse. If the autonomy of ethics is admitted as a serious possibility, theistic metaethics cannot win, and if it is excluded a priori theistic metaethics cannot lose. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Moral Anti-Reductionism, Objective Moral Values, and Abstract Objects: Some Very Preliminary Thoughts

(Note: I am clearing out my backlog of draft blog posts but I am officially on a hiatus from blogging. What this means is that while you are free to comment on this post, readers should not expect engagement from me anytime soon.)


VERY ROUGH DRAFT

Let's begin with some definitions:

moral ontology: The study of whether any moral properties and facts exist and, if so, what metaphysical status they have.

By "metaphysical status," I mean whether moral properties and facts are ontologically reducible to non-moral facts and properties. In this sense, then, there are two main theories about the metaphysical status of moral properties and facts: anti-reductionism and reductionism. Let's define those next:


moral anti-reductionism (a/k/a ‘non-naturalism’): The position that moral facts and properties are not reducible to non-moral facts and properties. The standard label for this position is the rather unfortunate and undescriptive term ‘non-naturalism.’ I have coined the new term, “moral anti-reductionism,” to be more clear. (Cf. Moore, Fales, Wielenberg)

moral reductionism: the position that moral facts and properties are reducible to non-moral facts and properties. There are two types of moral reductionism:
    • reductive moral naturalism: Moral facts and properties are reducible to natural, non-moral facts and properties. (Cf. Brink, Swinburne)
    • reductive moral supernaturalism: Moral facts and properties are reducible to supernatural, non-moral facts and properties. (Cf. Adams)
Here I want to explore the metaphysical status of moral facts and properties, from the perspective of moral anti-reductionism. It seems to me that if moral facts and properties exist and if moral anti-reductionism is true, then moral facts and properties plausibly exist as abstract objects. But what does that mean?

Let's start with moral facts and properties. Assuming they exist, let's plausibly stipulate that they include moral values. Turning to moral values, it's useful to start with a definition of "values" and then contrast that with "moral values." In the broad sense, "values" are the things that people care about. As Rescher pointed out in his study of value theory, there are many types of values: moral (such as honesty and fairness), economic (such as economic security and productiveness), social (such as charitableness and courtesy), political (such as freedom and justice), aesthetic (such as beauty and symmetry), and so forth. Rescher doesn't explicitly define what differentiates moral value from other kinds of value; furthermore, it's not obvious that these types of value are mutually exclusive. (For example, perhaps with certain caveats, justice is both a political and a moral value.) As a very rough first step, I suggest the following definition:

moral values: properties, character traits, or states of affairs which, by default, are worthy of praise, something we expect of others, or both. The "by default" expression is included to allow for exceptions. For example, we might say that honesty is usually morally valuable, except in cases where the moral value of honesty is outweighed by the moral value of something else, such as flourishing. Think of people in Nazi Europe who sheltered Jews and then lied to the Nazis when interrogated about whether they sheltered any Jews. The "by default" expression is designed to render such counter-examples irrelevant.

Some philosophers contrast moral values with moral disvalues. Let's define "moral disvalues" in parallel:

moral disvalues: properties, character traits, or states of affairs which, by default, are worthy of condemnation, are prohibited, or both. Again, the "by default" expression is included to address obvious counter-examples. For example, we might say that dishonesty is usually morally disvaluable, but in the case of people who sheltered Jews from Nazi persecution, such dishonesty was morally valuable.  

With "moral values" defined, let's now introduce the notion of an "objective moral value." (N.B. Depending on the day of the week, I am doubtful about whether the concept of "objective moral value" is coherent, but for this post I am going to assume that it is.) Even within the context of axiology, there is no universally agreed upon definition of "objectivity." Because this post is about moral ontology, I'm going to define objectivity in an ontological sense. Okay, but what does that mean? Well, negatively, we might say that the truth of X is ontologically objective if and only if the truth of X is mind-independent. That definition is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. It tells us what ontological objectivity is not, but it doesn't tell us what ontological objectivity is. So, positively, we might say that the truth of X is ontologically objective if and only if: (1) X is true in virtue of corresponding to actually existing objects or properties which function as truthmakers for the propositions in question; and (2) the truthmakers make no reference to anyone's subjective states, capacities, conventions, beliefs, attitudes, or desires.

ontologically objective moral values: propositions about moral values which (1) are true in virtue of corresponding to actually existing objects or properties which function as truthmakers for the propositions in question; and (2) the truthmakers make no reference to anyone's subjective states, capacities, conventions, beliefs, attitudes, or desires.

As an abstract definition, that definition seems okay to me, but how would this work in practice? For example, consider the following proposition:

H: Honesty is morally valuable.

If we say that a proposition like H is ontologically objective (as defined above), what functions as H's truthmaker? In other words, what makes H true?

Before I explore how a moral anti-reductionist might answer, I want to quickly summarize where we are. To sum up: we're making the following assumptions:

(1) moral facts and properties exist;
(2) moral facts and properties include moral values;
(3) the concept of "objective moral value" is coherent; and
(4) objective moral values exist, viz., moral values are ontologically objective. 

The next step is to divide ontologically objective moral values into two types: derivative and non-derivative. Non-derivative values, also known as "intrinsic values" or "ends values," are values which are not derived from anything else. In contrast, derivative values, also known as "extrinsic values" or "means values," are things whose value is derived from something else, something which might be derivatively or non-derivatively valuable. Imagine a chain of value where A is derivatively valuable because of B which is derivatively valuable because of C ... which is derivatively valuable because of X, which is non-derivatively valuable. The point I want to make here is that IF there extrinsic moral values, other things serve as their truthmakers. N.B. I don't know if there are extrinsic moral values or even if the concept of an extrinsic moral value is coherent, but it doesn't matter to my point, which is simply that IF such things exist, then their value ultimately derives from other things, things which are non-derivatively valuable. So let's make an additional assumption:

(5) Ontologically objective moral values exist, and include non-derivative ontologically objective moral values.

This can be simplified to:

(5')  Non-derivative ontologically objective moral values exist.

In case this is too abstract, here's a potential example (which, again, assumes the concept of a derivative moral value is coherent). By definition, utilitarianism seems to entail that utility is non-derivatively morally valuable. While act utilitarians might believe that, say, honesty is morally valuable, logically consistent act utilitarians must regard honesty as derivatively morally valuable: on their view, honesty is morally valuable if and only if it maximizes utility. In other words, for them, maximizing utility is what 'makes' honesty morally valuable. But what about utility itself? On act utilitarianism, nothing else makes it morally valuable to maximize utility; maximizing utility just is valuable. 

So let's add the following to our list of assumptions:

(6) Non-derivative ontologically objective moral values exist, and include X.

X could be any candidate for non-derivative value: the utilitarian's utility; the Aristotelian's contributing to human flourishing; the normative divine command theorist's obedience to God's commands; and so forth.

It seems to me that if some instance of (6) is true, it is necessarily true, but if some instance of (6) is false, it is necessarily false. For example, if utility is non-derivatively and objectively valuable, then it is necessarily true that utility is non-derivatively and objectively valuable. Likewise, if contributing to human flourishing is non-derivatively and objectively valuable, it is necessarily true that contributing to human flourishing is non-derivatively and objectively valuable. 

This leads to:

(7) Necessarily, non-derivative ontologically objective moral values exist, and include X.

The implication here is that, contrary to myth, if moral anti-reductionism is true, it doesn't necessarily follow that moral facts and properties are sui generis. They might be a wholly unique type of entity, but they might also simply be propositions, albeit propositions about moral facts and properties. In other words, the Platonist qua moral anti-reductionist need not view moral facts and properties as a unique type of entity over and above other kinds of entities which they recognize in their ontology; rather, the Platonist qua moral anti-reductionist might believe that propositions exist as abstract objects, and non-derivative and objective moral values "exist" as a type of proposition.

The idea of linking moral anti-reductionism and abstract objects seems plausible because of the many parallels between nonreductive moral values and abstract objects. If a non-reductive moral value or abstract object exists, it exists necessarily. If a non-reductive moral value or abstract object exists, it is causally inert (i.e., the number 2 or the moral value utility cannot cause anything).  If a non-reductive moral value or abstract object exist, it is not spatiotemporal, viz., it does not exist in space and time.

The Moral Psychology Argument for Atheism

(Note: I am clearing out my backlog of draft blog posts but I am officially on a hiatus from blogging. What this means is that while you are free to comment on this post, readers should not expect engagement from me anytime soon.)

John Jung Park's 2017 paper revives an old argument for atheism: errors in human moral judgment due to various psychological biases provides a reason to think God does not exist. Park does not explicitly provide the logical form of his argument, so the following is my reconstruction.

(1) If there exists a God who is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, then there exists a God who is not an evil deceiver. [From the definition of omnibenevolence]

(2) If there exists a God who is not an evil deceiver, then no finite persons would be susceptible to unconscious errors such as making contradictory judgments due to framing effects.

(3) If there exists a God who is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, then there are no finite persons susceptible to unconscious errors such as making contradictory judgments due to framing effects. [From (1) and (2) by Hypothetical Syllogism]

(4) Some finite persons (i.e., humans) are or have been susceptible to unconscious moral errors such as making contradictory judgments due to framing effects. [empirical finding]

(5) No God (who is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent) exists.

As I read him, Park offers the following reasons in defense of (2):
  • Because God is omnibenevolent, God "would not want us to be susceptible to unconscious errors such as making contradictory judgments due to framing effects" (507).
  • Because God is omnipotent, God "would have the power to not make us susceptible to the above psychological biases" (507).
  • Because God is omniscient, God "would know how to make us without such biases" (507).
Park anticipates objections and responds to the following objections.
  • Objection: If God made humans without psychological biases, that would undermine other important goods that God would have reason to bring about.
    Reply: "There is no greater good that the possibility of such errors allows for that would not be capable of being brought about without the given possibilities of error." 
  • Objection: Having cognitive biases is necessary for free will.
    Reply: Having cognitive biases is not only unnecessary for free will, but in fact might undermine free will. 
  • Objection: Having cognitive biases is necessary for making the world sufficiently challenging for moral testing.
    Reply: Such biases are not needed to test us to live an ethical life.
  • Objection: Good such as soul-building cannot be achieved without cognitive biases. 
    Reply: Empirical data about the moral development of those with PhDs in ethics shows that even they are not immune to cognitive biases.

As I have reconstructed Park's argument, it is deductive in form, but as Park himself states, the support for the proposition represented by (2) is inductive. For this reason, perhaps the strongest version of Park's argument would be an evidential argument along the lines of Paul Draper's various evidential arguments against theism. Such an argument would run as follows.

1'. E (the role of psychological biases in erroneous moral judgments) is known to be true, i.e., Pr(E) is close to 1.

2'. Theism (T) is not intrinsically much more probable than the hypothesis of indifference (HI), i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|HI|).

3'. Pr(E | HI & B) >> Pr(E | T &B).

4'. Other evidence held equal, T is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | B & E) < 0.5. 

While there is excellent reason to affirm premise 2' in this revised formulation, note that it introduces the concept of intrinsic probability. Neither that concept nor how it applies to T and HI is addressed in Park's paper, but, again, I don't think that is a problem for the revised argument due to Draper's defense of his theory of intrinsic probability.

In any case, empirical data about the role which cognitive biases play in causing humans to reach erroneous moral judgments is another significant problem for theism.  

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

LINK: A Remembrance of Tom Flynn

LINK

LINK: Bruce Langtry's Reply to Schellenberg's Logical Argument from Evil for Atheism

(Note: Although I am technically on hiatus from blogging for 1-3 years, while clearing out my inbox I came across an email about this article, so I'm mentioning it here.)

Abstract

J. L. Schellenberg, in “A New Logical Problem of Evil,” argues that (if God exists) God has, of necessity, a disappreciation of evil, operating at a metalevel in such a way as to give God a non-defeasible reason to rule out actualizing a world containing evil. He also argues that since God’s motive in creating the world is to share with finite beings the good that God experiences prior to creation, which is good without evil, it follows that God will create a world that contains no evil. I investigate in detail the foregoing lines of argument and provide grounds for rejecting them.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Link: The Metaphilosophy of Naturalism

Abstract: The metaphilosophy of naturalism is about the nature and goals of naturalist philosophy. A real or hypothetical person who knows the nature, goals and consequences of naturalist philosophy may be called an “informed naturalist.” An informed naturalist is justified in drawing certain conclusions about the current state of naturalism and the research program that naturalist philosophers ought to undertake. One conclusion is that the great majority of naturalist philosophers have an unjustified belief that naturalism is true and an unjustified belief that theism (or supernaturalism) is false. I explain this epistemic situation in this paper. I also articulate the goals an informed naturalist would recommend to remedy this situation. These goals, for the most part, have as their consequence the restoring of naturalism to its original state (approximately, to a certain degree, given the great difference in the specific theories), which is the state it possessed in Greco-Roman philosophy before naturalism was “overwhelmed” in the Middle Ages, beginning with Augustine (naturalism had critics as far back as Xenophanes, sixth century B.C.E., but it was not “overwhelmed” until much later). Contemporary naturalists still accept, unwittingly, the redefinition of naturalism that began to be constructed by theists in the fifth century C.E. and that underpins our basic world-view today.

Monday, August 27, 2012

List of arguments against physicalism about consciousness

LINK

Some of these arguments are clearly better than others. #5 seems like the best way, if only I could believe any of the data it cites in support. In contrast, #4 and #6 strike me as the weakest of the bunch; and #7 simply begs the question.